“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Temple Micah.

Micah Reader in October 2016 by Brenda Levenson

Recent incidents of police violence against young African-American men make reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me,particularly timely.   The author’s choice of writing it as a letter to his adolescent son allows for an intimate and passionate style which might have been more difficult to achieve under a different format.

The anger the book expresses drew our group into a discussion that touched upon many aspects of what being black means in our country, and the sadness we all felt that over hundred years after the abolition of slavery, African Americans continue to feel the pain of racism on account of their color.  Ta-Nehisi Coates’ advice to his son puts us in the skin of the young black men who continue to “live in constant fear” and how devastating it has to be, as one of our readers pointed out.  The writer’s “intense anger at injustice” is about “unmet expectations,” in spite of “improvements” achieved over the past years, as some readers observed.  Not only was a black man elected President of our country, but the current Attorney General, Loretta Lynch is black, as was her predecessor, Eric Holder.  Noticeable examples for sure, but not enough as schools in black neighborhoods continue to provide inferior education, lack of materials and books, along with often poorly trained and paid teachers.  Not enough as long as young men are considered guilty before proven innocent.  Not enough when segregation continues to exist in some form or other.

A comparison between the integration of Jews and that of African Americans was discussed at some length.  Not so many decades ago, large numbers of country clubs as well as neighborhoods were closed to “Jews and Negroes.”  Such signs have disappeared, leaving open to Jews the choice of where to live.  But such option is not always available to African Americans who continue, at times, to encounter prejudice in buying a home away from the traditional ghettos.

James Baldwin’s 1963 book, The Fire Next Time, was invoked, but while Baldwin preached violence in response to violence, this is not Coates’ message to his son.  Instead, Between the World and Me is a prescription for survival, how to act, how to dress and more.  He does not want his son to die at the hands of hasty police officers, some of whom are black, as our readers mentioned, and many of whom “grew up in an environment of violence,” added others.

“Race is the child of racism, not the father,” writes Coates, who dreams of “subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard.”  Slavery was a corrupting institution, and would  probably have brought the South down regardless of the Civil War.  But it remains to all of us to right the evil that was done to millions of men, women and children on account of the color of their skin.

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